Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

Elian Versus Castro's Family Values

Keith Pavlischek


April 10, 2000

Polls indicate that most Americans think it is an easy call: Elian Gonzalez should simply be sent back to his father in Cuba. Maybe they're right, but this is not an easy decision and defenders of parental rights are not hypocrites in thinking Elian should stay. The parental rights of a living parent should always be among the highest considerations in deciding what is in the best interest of a child. However, the wish of the parent does not settle the matter, nor is it the "super trump" in this instance.

To consider this an open and shut case you have to ignore (1) the oddly complacent behavior of Elian's father until most recently, (2) the nature of the Cuban regime to which Elian would be returned, and (3) the wishes of Elian's mother. First, Elian has been in Miami since November, and his father only now has come to visit his son. What accounts for this incredible lack of urgency? Maybe he lacked paternal affection for the child of a previous marriage, which would raise issues related to the first point. Or maybe he was fearfully following the communist party line. This is a regime that prohibits an athlete from playing baseball because his brother defected. That's family values, Castro style! Which brings us to the second point.

Is the Cuban regime's understanding of family and parental rights sufficiently pernicious to override the presumption in favor of the parent? According to Luis Fernandez, a spokesman for Cuba's unofficial embassy in Washington, once Elian is turned over to his father, "He is a possession of the Cuban government." Indeed! As Christopher Caldwell reports (Weekly Standard, April 10), under the Cuban constitution, parental rights obtain "only as long as their influence does not go against the political objectives of the State." A 1978 law requires that parents and teachers raise children with a "communist personality" and outlaws "influences contrary to communist development." To ensure this, the school system keeps a permanent file shared with the secret police on ideologically suspect children and requires faculty to interrogate children concerning the "ideological integration" of their parents.

The Cuban constitution requires Communist indoctrination and military training for grammar-school children. Starting at age ten, children are required to attend summer indoctrination camps and ninety-eight percent of school-aged children "volunteer" to serve in the "Union of Communist Pioneers." Elian Gonzalez is already a Pioneer and it would be illegal for his father to object to the indoctrination of his child.

Third, Elian's mother apparently was not "ideologically integrated." Should her wishes perish with her? As Charles Krauthammer has said, "If you frame the issue as a contest between a father's wishes and that of more distant relatives in Miami, you have rigged the conclusion. But the Miami cousins are doing no more than giving life to the dying wishes of Elian's mother. She risked, and gave, her life to bring him to freedom. Do her wishes count for nothing?" (Washington Post, January 28) Moreover, should he return to Cuba, Elian would be taught that his mother's sacrifice was not heroic but criminal! "Illegally exiting" Cuba is a crime. Would this be child abuse?

Perhaps, according to the letter of the law, Elian should be returned to Cuba by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, rather than having the issue adjudicated in family court. But if so, it should be with profound regret and not under the pretense of "parental rights." The communists in Cuba have long made a mockery of the very idea.

—Keith J. Pavlischek, Fellow
   Center for Public Justice


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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”